Thompson adds voice, bridge panel shrugs at park

Published 11:30 am Thursday, November 13, 2014

A PARK OVER THE WATER: American Cruise Lines Queen of the Mississippi passes under the U. S. 80 and Interstate 20 bridges heading south for Natchez.

A PARK OVER THE WATER: American Cruise Lines Queen of the Mississippi passes under the U. S. 80 and Interstate 20 bridges heading south for Natchez.

An effort to cajole Kansas City Southern Railroad into being more agreeable about a pedestrian walkway on the old U.S. 80 bridge has gained a voice in Congress but has lost the county-appointed panel that oversees the 84-year-old structure.

U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson asked the railroad to meet with the group, which has chosen to remain anonymous in previous letters to Vicksburg and Warren County governing boards. “I am requesting that you grant the Friends of the Vicksburg Bridge a meeting to discuss the possibility of opening the bridge to pedestrians and cyclists,” read part of the letter, dated Oct. 27 and passed around to county supervisors during an informal session this past Monday.

Attorney Buddy Dees, identified in the group’s letter to KCS in October, was out of town until Monday, said a receptionist at his Belmont Street office Tuesday. The request for a conversation with the railroad bore the signatures of Mayor George Flaggs Jr., county board president Bill Lauderdale, Vicksburg Warren County Chamber of Commerce advisory board president Don Brown and Vicksburg Convention and Visitor’s Bureau executive director Bill Seratt.

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The topic wasn’t on the Vicksburg Bridge Commission’s agenda on Wednesday, Still, it generated buzz when bridge officials who supported the concept during the last groundswell for a rec area voiced mixed feelings on the idea, citing money.

“If they want to pay us some money to do a park on the bridge, we’ll take a look at that,” chairman Robert Moss said, referencing in general a $30 million project in Memphis to convert the Harahan Bridge owned by Union Pacific Railroad into a bike path. “They’re getting it done for free and it belongs to Union Pacific.”

The Harahan bridge conversion is financed by a federal highway grant secured by the City of Memphis.

Though the group hasn’t come forward, the concept is on the railroad’s radar, down to the railroad’s security personnel, bridge superintendent Herman Smith said Wednesday.

“It’s out there with them,” Smith told commissioners.

The 1.6-mile bridge owned by Warren County and managed by the five-member commission closed to vehicles in 1998 over safety concerns, voiced mainly by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development. Louisiana maintains the Interstate 20 bridge and stopped allocating money to the U.S. 80 bridge on west side of the state line after it closed to vehicles. Special events on the bridge’s roadbed have spiked in the past half-decade in addition to the Over The River Run, which started in 1989.

KCS has opposed two major efforts to finance a walkway with federal highway money since the bridge closed to vehicles. The most recent was in 2006, when KCS opposed it in writing to state and federal legislators from Vicksburg, including Thompson, the Mississippi Department of Transportation and then-Gov. Haley Barbour. Bridge commissioners’ vote to support that effort was unanimous.